Riding the Fire Horse
D. A. Kelly
‘If I could harness the Fire Horse…’ Temujin, Genghis Khan of the Mongols, stared at the night sky. ‘I would ride Eternal Heaven like a god.’
‘You are a god, Khan,’ Subutai said. ‘To your sons, your army, your many wives. You rule our world.’
‘Khan of Khans certainly. But I am no god.’
‘I disagree, Khan.’
‘Those who disagree with me, usually regret it.’
‘I mean no disrespect, Khan. I merely point out you rule your empire as would a god.’
‘You’re a loyal warrior, Noyan Subutai.’ Genghis rested a hand on his general’s shoulder. ‘One of my most trusted men. You and Noyan Muqali are my best generals and the only two whose words are not honeyed by ambition.’
‘You honour me, Khan.’
‘I give praise where praise is due.’ Genghis shielded his eyes, watching the Fire Horse gallop westward across the night, its heart brilliant white, its tail blood red. ‘He rides the heavens with a great message for me. I am sure of it. Come, Subutai, I will seek Temku’s council.’
It was not a quick walk through the sprawling Mongol horde to see Temku. The shaman's gher sat on the far side of four tuman; each tuman a unit of ten thousand men. Add in their horses, wagons, livestock and circular ghers, and it was more a mobile city than an invading army.
As Genghis wove his way around the ghers, with Subutai by his side, familiar sounds rose and fell in waves. Men talking and laughing, arrows thunking into grass targets, blades being sharpened, horses munching on fodder, their heads low after a day of hard riding, children playing and naks scurrying around doing the bidding of their masters. He had built this unstoppable army. Sometimes he could not believe he had managed such a feat, but the proof lay all around him. The smell of beef and lamb skewered and roasting on open fires floated on the icy wind, making his mouth water.
A god would not be tempted by such things.
Temku’s circular gher squatted before him like a huge bull turd; the grey felt weathered, the south-facing door painted in blue and orange interlocking lines and serpentine patterns. Smoke curled from the central vent. The scent of herbs and dried camel dung gave away what fed his fire.
Genghis hesitated, his hand on the door, listening, testing his shaman’s seer-sight.
‘Come in, come in, Khan,’ called Temku, his voice gravelly with age and too much pipe-smoke.
Genghis smiled, fleeting, tight-lipped. Only his closest noyan and his first wife Bohrte saw his softer side. To show any other face, but that of the Khan would reveal weakness; vulnerability.
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